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The Last Poets review – godfathers of hip-hop deliver grit, wit and raging anthems

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Jazz Cafe, London
The ever-shifting collective vindicate their status as rap royalty with a stripped-back show that fuses knockabout humour with scorching rallying cries

More revered than heard over their five-decade existence, the Last Poets are customarily cited as the progenitors of hip-hop. While there’s substantial truth to this, it both oversimplifies that story (hip-hop emerged as a culture in itself, which meshed with the kind of rapping pioneered by the Poets), and diminishes their own work: it marks them as a stepping stone, whose significance lies chiefly in their influence.

Yet their records are extraordinary. They have few peers in their inflammatory artistry, and in their melding of rhythm and language into a single, fluid entity. They began on the streets of Harlem. That, you’d imagine, meant playing to a tough crowd; 49 years on, they still know how to put on a gripping show out of next to nothing.

Related: The Last Poets: America in poetry from black power to Black Lives Matter

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